Ferrari’s traditional driver line-up philosophy has always tended to include a world champion or multiple race winner, especially in its years fighting close to, or right at, the front of the grid as Mattia Binotto shares his views of current line-up.
However, Ferrari’s driver pairing has not included a world champion since Sebastian Vettel was ousted from the team at the end of the 2020 season. At the time of their partnership at the Scuderia, Charles Leclerc was in only his second and third season in F1 when alongside Vettel, having been chosen to replace Kimi Raikkonen at the end of 2018.
Leclerc had completed one season at the ailing Sauber team, the last season for the Hinwil-based outfit under that name, before Ferrari promoted its star young driver to arguably the most pressured seat in motorsport. He was expected to get close to Vettel, but for the four-time champion to outscore Leclerc at least through their first year together in 2019.
Instead, Leclerc outscored Vettel by twenty-four points and won his first two races in Belgium and Italy. By this time, Ferrari were falling out of love with the German and informed him of his departure from the team during the pandemic lockdown prior to the 2020 season even getting underway. He would struggle through a whole season therefore with the knowledge that he was no longer wanted and that McLaren’s Sainz was waiting in the wings for the seat.
Sainz, who hasn’t yet reached the race victory milestone in F1, is believed to have been chosen over eight-time race winner Daniel Ricciardo in order to compliment Leclerc’s position as de facto team leader. As a consequence, the Monegasque is the only driver of the duo to have even won a race.
When asked what the philosophy was behind opting for two younger drivers, after years of making use of experienced drivers in both of its cars, Ferrari team principal Binotto defended the choice to value youth over history and experience.
“At first I’m very happy with the line-up we’ve got,” said Binotto. “Pretty happy. They’re young, [that is] true, but they [each have] good experience as well. When we employed them… Charles was obviously an investment since he was very young in the Ferrari Academy. But as well with Carlos, having young drivers is meaning that as Ferrari we are looking not only at the short-term, but the medium and long-term.
“Trying to build, let me say, solid foundations and I think those two are really behaving well and going well together. The level of collaborations on the technical, not only outside on whatever can be social media etc, but on the technical side they are complimentary, giving the right feedback.”
Binotto is happy with how the atmosphere is in the team with his drivers in which were both brought into the team during his tenure, after several years of exclusively employing heavyweight drivers – namely Vettel, Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa. He also believes Leclerc and Sainz understand the team’s “spirit” – an all too crucial aspect of an outfit as historic as Ferrari.
“I think they understand the spirit of the team and they are empowering somehow the spirit of the team, so really very happy so far,” said Binotto. “I know that Charles had a fantastic start to the season. A bit more difficult for Carlos, but he will get there very soon I’m pretty sure. And I think that as well to try to win the constructor’s championship you need to have two good drivers, which we’ve got.
“So overall I think we are in a good place. We have long-term contracts with them. I’m very happy with that,” summed up Binotto. He can also see parallels between Leclerc and one of Ferrari’s most loved drivers, Gilles Villeneuve, who tragically passed away in one of their cars at the 1982 Belgian Grand Prix at Zolder. Leclerc was recently given the opportunity to drive Villeneuve’s 1979 312T at the team’s test track in Fiorano.
“If I look at Charles, the way he’s driving, his talent, and more than that it’s the passion, the passion of the fans for him,” said Binotto. “And it’s something what I call Essere Ferrari. Being Ferrari is somehow trying to enhance the myth of the cavallino.
“There are only a few drivers which are capable of doing that and I think Charles is one of these, as Gilles was. Gilles was fantastic, in that Gilles won only six races, but remains for all the tifosi of the cavallino… It’s the passion he put [into racing for Ferrari], and I think Charles has got that and that’s something which is great,” summed up Binotto.
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